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“A lot of women went (to work in the) factories. After the war (WWII), I think a lot of the husbands just expected them to stop working. The women didn't want to stop working . . . That's when a lot of the women's movements started and women started thinking independently.” ~ Marie Wolf



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Minnesota Women & Work Timeline: 1858-1910

1858: Minnesota was established as the 32nd state in the union. A vast majority of the 150,000 inhabitants worked as farmers, small business owners, mill workers, teachers, and in-home workers. The type of work available to a person performed was based largely on their gender, race, ethnicity, and ability. The first reference to organized labor was a newspaper account of a two-day strike by the journeymen tailors of St. Paul in 1854. The outcome of the strikers efforts were not published.

1860’s: Women performed an enormous amount of unwaged work to help support soldiers from the 1st Minnesota Regiment during the Civil War. Women sewed uniforms, nursed the wounded, raised funds, and wrote more than 1,800 letters per week.

1860: Training schools for teachers were opened in Winona, Mankato, and St. Cloud. For the first time, women were allowed to attend and train for a profession outside of the home. Female teachers earned $13.00 per month ($8.00 less than their male counterparts) and were required to follow strict behavioral guidelines: they must remain single, adhere to a curfew, and abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and harsh language. Similarly, male school teachers were required to refrain from card games, taverns, and tobacco. A teachers duties often went beyond educating children to include cleaning the schoolhouse and chopping wood.

1861: The Minnesota Education Association (MEA,) was founded as a professional organization for teachers and administrators.


1878: The first local assembly of the Knights of Labor was chartered in Minneapolis, and a second assembly was formed in St. Paul a year later. Other locals were quickly organized in Stillwater, Duluth, Albert Lea, Austin, Winona, Barensville, Brainerd, Rochester, and Dresbach, and by 1887 there were 85 assemblies with 6,500 members. The Knights worked to unite all workers, regardless of their skill, race or gender. Anyone was welcome to join an except lawyers, bankers, stock brokers, gamblers, and those in the liquor business. The only labor organizations who chose not to affiliate with the Knights were the Bricklayers and the Typographical Unions. The Knights rally cry was, "An injury to one is of concern to all," and they struggled endlessly for improved working conditions, fair wages, the eight hour work day, and job security. Eventually the Knights erected a three story Labor Temple in Minneapolis.

1880’s: The Minnesota chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was formed. In addition to prohibition, the organization stridently worked for pay equity, and to improve the working conditions for women.

1887: Although some workers lobbied for pay equity, wages were very low for most women, who were seen as contingency workers. The Minnesota Department of Labor reported that "Complaints are often heard that women do not earn as much wages their services justify, and that women, doing the same work as men, receive less pay." A century later, gender based wage inequities continue to exist.

1888: Labor organizer and reformer, Eva McDonald Valesh (a.k.a. Eva Gay) wrote a series of articles for the St. Paul Daily Globe, one of which revealed the intolerable and unsafe conditions endured by female factory workers.

1890: According to a census report, 4,460 children, between the ages of 10 and 14, were "gainfully employed." While most children worked on farms or as household servants, over 1,000 worked in manufacturing plants or in the trades.

1890: The Farmer, a magazine for farm workers, was moved from North Dakota to St. Paul to be near the University of Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture. Shortly after this, The Farmer’s Wife, a magazine devoted to issues concerning female farm workers, was launched in Winona.

1893: In an effort to colonize Native Americans, legislation was passed that required all Indian children to attend government run schools. The children were forced to abandoned their cultural methods of work and learn "white" methods of industrial labor. After their schooling was complete, many Indian children returned to their reservation, only to find their new methods of work were useless in preparing them for a productive life on their reservation.

1894: The Taxpayers’ Business and Laboringmen’s Movement of the Twin Cities was established in St. Paul. The organization’s platform discouraged members from patronizing companies which employed child labor, underpaid their workers, or instilled a sweatshop environment. Their platform also required that all women stay at home, except in cases where a woman was widowed or her husband was invalid. In that case, the woman should receive equal pay for equal work, but only after the woman exhibits a certificate from the Labor Commissioner validating her situation.

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1900’s: Minnesota passed legislation that finally allowed women to control their earned wages, and to own property. The courts, however, still generally considered any property that was obtained after marriage to be that of the husbands.

1900’s: As the textile industry grew in Minneapolis, many young women obtained employment in the factories where they would earn $5 to $7 per week. If there was any money left after she paid for rent, food, and clothing, it was sent back home. Some womenÕs families would require them to work in order to pay for the male siblings school tuition.

1900’s: Women who live and work on Minnesota farms contribute enormously with their unwaged labor. In addition to their work as a cook, laundress, domestic servant, nurse, and daycare provider, farm woman were also in charge of the poultry livestock, eggs, and the vegetable garden. The extra cash a brought in by selling eggs and vegetables made the difference between a farm being viable and having to take a loss.

1900’s: The employment opportunities open to women in the waged workforce were extensions of their unwaged work within the home: factory work such as sewing or canning, domestic servant, teacher, nurse. Women continued to be responsible for the unwaged work within the home, even if they did work a full-time waged position outside of the home.

1900’s: The majority of women who worked as domestic servants could usually expect to receive a room, food, and a uniform. In return they are required to give up their personal time to be at the beck and call of the family that employs them.

1900’s: As the rate of unions increase, so do the rate of women’s auxiliaries. By 1945 nearly every organized labor union had a ladies auxiliary. Most women were banned from union membership, but they were instrumental in the success of them. Women were nurturer, morale guardian, staffing food, walking the picket line, medical support, raising funds, but the were excluded from decision making and basically viewed upon as supportive.

1900: Minnesota was first in the nation for women working for wages outside of the home. One in nine women could be most likely be found employed as a nurse, teacher, domestic, or factory worker. In Minneapolis, 28.1% of women were the main income provider, and in 29.6% in St. Paul. However, the vast majority of women were expected to confine their work to the unwaged chores of home cleaning, cooking cleaning, child care, and gardening.

1905: Women continued to join clubs, organizations, and auxiliaries, in order to gain a collective voice against the poor wages and working conditions associated with both male and female work. Both former president Grover Cleveland and the editors of the Ladies’ Home journal warned women against joining such groups and viewed them as a threat to the well being of the home.

1906: As more school governing boards are formed, they quickly establish qualification and guidelines for employing teachers. Their preferences are mainly for young, white, unmarried women to teach the elementary grades. The wages were set according to gender. Eighty-five per cent of all teachers in Minnesota were women who earned an average of $39 per month, compared to male teachers who earned an average of $49 per month.

1907: Minnesota joined two other states in setting minimum standards for nurses, the main employment option available to women interested in the medical field. Nurses generally worked 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, for minimal pay.

1910: Approximately three hundred women living on the iron range were employed outside of the home. Women in the more professional jobs, such as teachers, nurse, and store operators tended to be American born, while women employed in the non-professional fields such as domestics, laundress, chamber maid, waitress, tended to be immigrant women. Up to 30% of the immigrant women earned extra money by offering bordering services within their home. Because the miners worked a variety of shifts, the women who boarded them had to work virtually around the clock to prepare meals and clean for them.

1910: The number of Minnesota children working full-time rose to 5,706. Ten years later, the number dropped to 3,725, but rose again to over 5,000 by 1940.

1910: Women represented 1 in 4 workers in the waged workforce. By 1930 they represented 3 in 10, and by 1940, they were 1 in 3. These numbers are greatly underrepresented as they only refer to waged work, and do not count women who are employed in seasonal, temporary, or part time work. A year later, the Minnesota Bureau reported that over 70% of women who worked for waged earned barely enough to survive. Women were often relegated low paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement. Due to their low wages, many women were forced to view marriage as a necessity for their economic survival. Among the more popular positions for women were teacher, nurse, domestic servant, and factory worker.

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